Freelance reporter and video producer based in Tashkent
TTM Contributor 100
Photos by Umida Akhmedova
Uloq is the Uzbek version of the famous Asian Buzkashi game. This tradition was spread in Central Asia and Afghanistan by Mongols with their cult of horsemen. The rules are simple: riders compete for a carcass of a goat or a young ram. The winner has to cross the finish line on horseback without allowing other riders to rob him of his prey. Like Buzkashi, Uloq is an extremely dangerous sport: 100 or more horsemen usually fight for a one carcass. Major Uloq games are usually held in the spring or autumn, when the Central Asian peoples traditionally celebrate their weddings, and is often played before the arrival of their main Spring festival, Nowruz. The official Uloq Federation of Uzbekistan conducts frequent tournements and competitions, bringing together up to 500 riders and thousands of spectators to watch the fast, intense sport.
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Photos and Text by Timur Karpov/Transterra Media
The Mugat are an ancient nomadic people living in Central Asia. Also known as the "Central Asian Gypsies", their lifestyle is similar to European Roma: they live in camps, migrate across countries, and begand recycle garbage for money. Many people in Uzbekistsan, a country with a significant Mugat population, believe the Mugat have magic powers and know secret curses.
Usually the Mugat never let cameramen inside their community and are warey of outsiders. This Mugat ceremony, called "Khatna-tuy", took place in a small city of Parkent, Uzbekistan. Mugat people from camps around Parkent gathered together to celebrate the circumcision of one of the boys from the community. As an Islamic people, circumcision is one of the most important events in the life of a Mugat man. On the day of his ceremony, he receives money and gifts from community, while guests enjoy cheap vodka, bowls of meat, and dancing.
These photos provide an inside look at the rituals of one of the most secretive peoples in one of the world's most secretive states.
Photos by Alexey Volosevich.
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A lone Uloq rider wanders with his horse in the field of battle at the end of the game.
The winner of the game of Uloq rides back towards the jury and spectators with his spoils.
One lucky rider (left) wears a Soviet tank brigadier helmet to the game. It's considered the best defense for a horseman's head.
The winner (right) will ride back to the jury with the carcass once he has planted it in the target.
Riders customarily pray before the start of the game.
Bizarrely and painfully, it is allowed for horses to bite riders and other horses. Riders often train their horses to perform such a trick on command.
Riders are allowed to whip each other. They often hold their whips in their mouths while trying to control their horses with both hands.
Riders are not allowed to attack each other from the back, but all other kinds of physical attack are permitted.
Spectators try to find elevated places to have a good view on the game.
A game of Uloq has just begun before a packed audience in Ertosh, Uzbekistan.
Riders try to wear warm clothes made of thick layers of cotton to prevent injuries from horses and other riders.
A carcass used for the game should first be beheaded. A regulation carcass weighs between 30 and 40 kg.
While men ride horses into the game, children and young boys ride donkeys.
Fans wait in line to enter the massive field where the game will take place in Ertosh.
The hoard of riders waits for a signal from the jury that marks the beginning of the game.
Uloq fans are often criticized for drinking and bad behavior.
Riders who become too tired to carry on or who are injured can leave the game at any time.
A Uloq rider mounts his horse before the game.
The jury will grant the winner a prize: it can be anything from a horse or carpet to a TV or even a car.
Spectators enjoy alcoholic beverages while braving the cold to watch the game. Their drinks of choice: vodka and cheap local wine called "Porto 53."
The jury consists of respected people (aksakals) who inspect horsemen, the carcass and monitor the game to make sure it goes on according to the rules.
A big round target marks the finish line where the winning rider is supposed to lay the carcass - without getting it stolen from him by other riders with whips clenched in their teeth and horses trained to bite.
Despite the fact that Uloq should traditionally be played in spring or autumn, horsemen like to play on fresh snow - it's safer when you fall from a horse.
Riders from all the surrounding villages take part in an Uloq competition in Ertosh. Participating in Uloq competitions is considered a good way to demonstrate mens' strength to women.
Like Roma gypsies, gold teeth are common fashion for the Mugat. The gun pictured in this photo is a toy gun intended as a gift for the boy being circumcised. Guns are strictly forbidden in Uzbekistan.
Teenage Mugat girls enjoy their time at the ceremony. Most ethnologists believe the Mugat have Indian origins, causing many to draw parallels between the Mugat and the Roma gypsies of Europe. The comparison is not based solely on ethnicity, but also on lifestyle. The Mugat, like the Roma Gypsies, live on the fringes of society and have strong and insular communities.
Mugat people from camps around Parkent, Uzbekistan gather to celebrate a "Khatna-tuy," a feast celebrating the circumcision of one of the boys. That's one of the most important events in a life of ordinary Mugat man. He will receive gifts of money while guests enjoy cheap vodka and dance.
The Mugat are an ancient nomadic people living in Central Asia, also known as "Central Asian Gypsies." Their lifestyle is similar to Roma: living in camps, moving across the countries, begging and recycling garbage. Uzbek people believe they have magic powers and know secret curses. They usually never let any cameramen inside their community.
Fresh meat and vodka are very desirable products for Mugat, symbolizing prosperity. Guests will take this meat home.
Lamb is often the meat of choice.
Children help their parents serve guests.
According to tradition, every family at the ceremony will receive a dish full of fresh meat and a bottle of vodka. Despite the fact that the Mugat are Muslims, alcohol, and especially vodka is an accepted legacy of heavy Russian influence in the region.
Mugat love to decorate their houses with cheap Chinese landscape pictures.
Chickens and watermelons are very cheap and a common staple of any meal in Uzbekistan
Twin sisters. Their parents rented dresses for them for the ceremony.
Mugat men and women always sit at separate tables.
The boy's parents have to arrange the help of all of their relatives and friends in order to help feed the approximately 200 guests.
Photos of dead relatives are placed above a carpet depicting the Kabaa in Mecca. This is done as a sign of respect to the dead relatives.
However, the poverty of Mugat society means that most cannot afford cars and many still use donkeys.
Mugat children, including the boy to be circumcised stand in front of a Soviet era monument to fallen soldiers.
Relatives of the boy to be circumcized arriving at the ceremony